We are natural-born interpreters. Even before we understand language, we interpret the world around us through the nonverbal. Once we know the language, we still interpret more than half of what we hear based on what we see. Facial expressions, hand gestures, eye contact, and tone of voice speak louder than the actual words coming out of a person’s mouth.
Imagine if you were an ambassador to a foreign country where you could speak the language but not fluently, and you were tasked to communicate a certain message to those people. Not only would you practice what words to use, but you would also pay attention to the nonverbal cues you are giving, especially if a certain hand gesture or facial expression could be interpreted negatively based on their culture.
As Christ-followers, we are ambassadors tasked with a life-giving message (2 Corinthians 2:14-15, 2 Corinthians 5:20). As representatives for the King of Kings, we must keep in mind that people will often see us before they hear us. And, even after they hear us, they will be more likely to believe what they see in our lives over what we say to them if the two don’t match up.
You know the old expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” That is usually about parents who tell their children the right way to live but don’t model it. We all know how well that turns out; kids believe what they see, not what they hear. To have a positive and lasting impact, what we say must match up with our actions.
If a person in a McDonald’s uniform tried to convince you he really worked for Walmart, you probably wouldn’t believe him because you can clearly see he is wearing a McDonald’s uniform, so you dismiss his words. If your sanitation worker showed up wearing a three-piece suit, you would think he had a momentary lapse of common sense or forgot what his job description was.
Not only do our nonverbal cues send messages, but the clothes we wear send messages as well. We are okay discussing nonverbal communication and even agree on its impact until the subject of clothes enters the arena. Suddenly we are on the defensive, and phrases like, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” “It’s what’s on the inside that matters,” “What you see isn’t always what you get” are on the tip of our tongue.
These phrases are absolutely correct; we shouldn’t judge Jesus Himself talks about that in Matthew 7:1-5. The Bible does admonish us to pay more attention to the inner person than our outward person (1 Peter 3:3-4). We know for ourselves as we get to know other people that the pictures on social media, or the mask they put up at first, does not always accurately reflect their true selves. However, we live in a world tainted by sin, so everything gets mixed up and misunderstood, including the messages we send by what we wear.
Humor me with a “for instance….” Let’s say you are a godly, Christian woman who loves Jesus and wants nothing more than for your neighbors to see Christ in you and one day call on Him as Savior. You are shy, so you rely on your lifestyle more than conversation to show them Jesus. When they see you leave your house each morning in spandex leggings and a sports bra top to go running, do you think their first thought is about how much you love Jesus and how they long for what you have?
Let’s look at it from the other side. Same scenario as above, but this time when you leave your house to go running each morning, you are wearing an ankle-length skirt and a baggy sweatshirt. In either case, your neighbor’s first thoughts are not on how much you must love Jesus. In the first scenario, they are probably wondering if you have any self-respect, and in the second scenario, they just think you are plain weird.
(On a side note, we can never rely completely on our nonverbal to tell someone about Jesus. We must at some point open our mouths and verbally share the good news.)
The point is, we send messages every day, everywhere we go. As Christ-followers, we must be aware of this and strive towards “intentional living,” as Dr. Randy Carlson puts it. Now, before you have a complete mental breakdown at the thought of living each day with intent, take a deep breath and relax. This is not a list that you get out every morning to go over about what to wear, how to look, what to eat, what to say, what to do, or where to go.
Each of those things is important, and we do need to give them some thought. Rather than turning it into a stress-filled daily exercise, turn it into a daily prayer. Come before your Heavenly Father to seek His wisdom and guidance. The truth is we are not our own, according to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Therefore, our reasons behind what we wear should match up with the fact that we belong to God. Are we going to mess up? For sure! Keep coming back to the One who created you in the first place and who loves you more than you have ever been loved.
You see, what we wear is not about the rules, the leggings, or the ankle-length skirts. It’s about reflecting the love that God has for us in a lost and dying world. If that is our motive behind getting dressed, I just don’t think we will want to wear tight, short clothes or oversized, drab clothes knowing the message that sends to others. Frankly, if we belong to Christ, our life is not about our comfort or what we like or prefer. We have a higher purpose and calling. Can you imagine being in Heaven and regretting that you never got to wear that really cute but slinky outfit or go to the office in sweats? If there is a chance in Heaven to regret things from this life, I guarantee our regrets will not be over what we wished we could have worn but rather the person we never reached out to with the gospel.
Choose to be a beautiful reflection of Jesus’ love, grace, and mercy to everyone you meet, not only with your smile and sweet words of kindness but also with what you are wearing. You won’t regret it in the end.